Amid volatile upheaval in Hall County government, a new face was brought in to lead.
Jock Connell, a former Gwinnett County administrator, was appointed as Hall's interim administrator on Jan. 7 after former administrator Charley Nix was forced to resign. Connell will serve as the county's top official for a period of six months while the commission conducts a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.
Connell is a veteran of local government, having held a variety of positions in nearby Gwinnett County.
He started his career in the public sector in 1986, when he established Gwinnett's first risk management and insurance program.
He worked his way through various departments over 23 years, spending the last five as the county's administrator.
He said he decided to retire in 2009 with the feeling that it was time to move on.
"We had two new commissioners that were going to come in," Connell said. "I felt like it was a good time for the board to pick somebody new."
He has spent the last year relaxing and spending time with his family, an important part of his life that he said was sometimes compromised with the hectic schedule of a county manager.
"One clear conclusion I came to is I'm 53 years old and I'm not ready to go into full-time retirement status," Connell said.
So when approached by future Hall County commissioners about stepping in to help during a time of transition in the county, he accepted the challenge.
"This was a unique opportunity," Connell said. "It was intriguing to me. It put me back into it and gave me an opportunity to do what I've done most of my career. My primary goal is to be helpful here, and I hope I'm contributing to some type of positive outcome."
He said he knew going in that he would be entering a tense environment.
On Jan. 5, Commissioner Craig Lutz asked for the resignations of Nix, Assistant County Administrator Phil Sutton and County Attorney Bill Blalock.
Finance Director Michaela Thompson was not in the office that afternoon, but was asked to resign the next day.
At a meeting on the evening of Jan. 6, the commissioners voted not to renew the contracts of the top county officials, with Lutz and commissioners Ashley Bell and Scott Gibbs in favor and commissioners Tom Oliver and Billy Powell in dissent.
Connell said there is a lot that will need to be taken care of during the six months of his tenure.
Working on the budgets for 2011 and 2012, recruiting a finance director and making sure the county's major projects stay on track will consume the majority of his time.
"Those major things will put us in a position we need to be in six months from now," Connell said.
Lutz said he was impressed with Connell's work in Gwinnett County.
"He's exceptionally professional," Lutz said. "One of the phrases he used in Gwinnett County was ‘make sure all the commissioners get the same flavor sucker' - make sure all the commissioners get treated the same, and that's definitely the kind of relationship I want to have with the county manager going forward. I didn't want him to treat me any different than anyone else."
Lutz said losing the experience and institutional knowledge of the former officials was a consideration, but he feels comfortable with Connell's ability to handle things moving forward.
"You're weighing that against the benefit of bringing in somebody like Jock who has a wealth of experience," Lutz said.
The Carl Vinson Institute of Government will be handling the formal search for a permanent county administrator.
"I would be very excited if his name was on that list," Lutz said.
Chairman Tom Oliver said he is displeased with the entire situation.
"I don't think it's as much about the new county administrator as it was the people that were terminated," Oliver said. "In my opinion, they were doing an excellent job. So to bring someone in that's new, just because they've been with a bigger county doesn't necessarily mean they're more qualified or better equipped to do a better job than what we had."